Fisheries Sink as Minister Flounders

Cape Times (South Africa), June 3, 2011 | Go to article overview

Fisheries Sink as Minister Flounders


It is sadly a fact accepted by the government, the wider fishing industry and civil society that South Africa's inshore fisheries are in desperate trouble. The scientific and management data only serve to ram home that message.

Our oldest commercial fishery - the line fishery which dates back to the 1500s - is in a state of environmental crisis with most of the commercially valuable species considered collapsed or over-exploited.

The biomass of our inshore west coast rock lobster stocks (fished in water depths of less than 40m) is at 3 percent of historic "pristine" levels. Our treknet fisheries have all but collapsed and now serve a greater tourist attraction than a food security or income generation function.

Our oyster fishery is dying a silent death as the fisheries department apparently forgot to reallocate quotas that were allocated in 2005 for a three-year period, and failed to undertake any of the market research and fishery support programmes promised in the oyster policy, which was specifically aimed at empowering poor, rural women oyster pickers.

Then there is abalone, which has been ravaged by illegal fishing sponsored by the national drug and illicit goods trade, and gouged further by the department's immoral dependence on the income generated by the sale of confiscated product each year. This amounts to about one third of its total operating budget.

It simply cannot afford to stop poaching. If it does, the Marine Living Resources Fund, which is charged with funding fisheries management, research, compliance and administration, will be bankrupt.

It is an incontrovertible fact that the state of South African fisheries management is at its nadir.

An independent professor of fisheries recently noted that we should be thankful that between 80 percent and 90 percent of all fish commercially landed is by our offshore and deep-water fishery sectors.

The reasoning is that although these sectors - which are dominated by the trawl, long line, purse seine and deep water trap fisheries - have also been abandoned by the fisheries department, the right holders in these sectors, which collectively employ just under 40 000 people directly (probably more than 200 000 through downstream employment opportunities) and have assets with an insured value of more than R10 billion, have long-term interests in ensuring their respective fisheries are sustainable.

And, of course, being offshore fisheries, they are less susceptible to the land-based poaching which is driven by poverty, opportunism and growing frustration with the government's failed promises of "fishing quotas for all".

South Africa's offshore fishery sectors have instead established strategic relations and alliances with organisations that have substituted the failed fisheries department.

For example, not only do most offshore sectors employ their own scientists to advise on stock status and sustainability, they have taken to managing their own catches and have even developed data reporting software for the purposes of complying with EU traceability regulations.

In recent times, some of the largest fishing companies in South Africa established the Responsible Fisheries Alliance (RFA). The RFA seeks to, inter alia, drive the implementation of an ecosystems approach to fisheries management (EAF).

If one goes back to South Africa's fisheries policies of 2005, the principle of EAF was to have been driven and implemented by the fisheries department, together with industry. Today, the department is not even a passenger on this ride.

The department has reduced itself to being the proverbial fly in the ointment of offshore fisheries management, regularly throwing spanners in the works by making dangerous and damaging statements or by simply not acting to protect and promote South Africa's fisheries.

A substantial part of the problem is that the Department of Fisheries, which today shares its minister with those of agriculture and forestry, has been - like so many other government institutions - a victim of the ANC's cadre deployment programme. …

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